Fallen Smith Rock climber recovering from injuries

Climbers, instructor talk of safety measures

Climbers talk safety at Smith Rock

TERREBONNE, Ore. - A 31-year-old Portland woman seriously injured in a 25-foot fall while climbing at Smith Rock Monday afternoon, prompting a lengthy rescue, improved to fair condition Tuesday at St. Charles Bend, officials said.

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue was dispatched shortly after 3 p.m. to the report of a climber who initial reports indicated had fallen about 50 feet from about halfway up a climbing area known as Cocaine Gully, said Deputy Jim Whitcomb, assistant SAR coordinator.

A sheriff’s office reserve deputy and Mountain Rescue Unit leader responded to the scene and arrived at the climber’s location shortly before 4 p.m., Whitcomb said.

They learned the climber, Meghan Austin of Portland, actually had fallen to the ground, a distance of about 25 feet, and determined the rescue would require a technical rope system to safely lower the climber down to the trail.

Rescuers learned Austin was climbing with three friends and had rappelled past the end of her rope, Whitcomb said.

"It's the number one thing that causes accidents, and it's the easiest thing to prevent," David Potter, a climbing instructor at Smith Rock, said Tuesday.

He added that not even long-time climbers are immune, "I know four people personally who have done the same thing, all experienced climbers," Potter said.

Catherine Sao has been climbing for about a year, and said she triple-checks everything for safety.

"Even if your guide book says your rope is long enough, you always want to have that knot tied in there," she said.

A total of 16 SAR volunteers and two SAR deputies responded to the scene, assisted in the operation by a Smith Rock State Park ranger and Redmond Fire medics.

The rescue operation took until after sunset, requiring halogen lights to illuminate the gully, the deputy said.

The climber was packaged in a litter and lowered by ropes down the steep terrain, reaching the main hiking trail around 6:35 p.m., Whitcomb said. She was taken by wheeled litter to the footbridge below the main parking lot, a rescue that took until about 9:30 p.m. to conclude.

Austin was taken by Redmond Fire ambulance to St. Charles Bend with what Whitcomb described as serious but non-life-threatening injuries. A house supervisor said she was admitted in serious condition late Monday night, but had improved to fair condition by Tuesday afternoon.

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